For all the talk about the loaded Western Conference, a few teams have begun to separate themselves from the rest of the pack-namely the Golden State Warriors and Houston Rockets. The squads are on course to enter the postseason as the No. 1 and No. 2 seeds, and each can probably lay a clam to having the best player in the conference. Stephen Curry and James Harden have been the Top 2 candidates in the MVP race for most of the year, and both are putting the finishing touches on fantastic seasons that saw one put up a highlight-reel play nearly every night with the other controlling his offense like a conductor leading a symphony.
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The San Antonio Spurs and Los Angeles Clippers also seem to be peaking at the right time, while the rest of the West is rattled with injuries and chemistry issues heading into the final days of the regular season. Let's focus on Golden State and Houston and figure out which team has the easier road to a conference finals appearance. All odds come from Sportsbook.ag.
Potential First-Round Opponents
Golden State: New Orleans Pelicans or Oklahoma City Thunder
Houston: Dallas Mavericks
Golden State will face either New Orleans or Oklahoma City, depending on how the final week of the season plays out. Either way, the Warriors will have a real first-round test on their hands. A matchup against the Thunder is far less intimidating without Kevin Durant, but Russell Westbrook has been so dominant and the team so experienced that a long series is probably in store for Golden State. Even with a series against the Pelicans, the team will have issues trying to match up with the dominant Anthony Davis.
Houston, on the other hand, will face a struggling and dysfunctional Dallas Mavericks squad-if it can hang on to the No. 2 seed (Memphis and the Clippers can still catch them). What the Rockets may lack in talent, they make up in chemistry and adherence to an offensive system. Harden knows how to get the most out of his squad, and his game is similar to a NASCAR driver getting behind the wheel of a high-octane car that only he can control.
Advantage : Houston
Potential Second-Round Opponents
Golden State: Los Angeles Clippers
Houston: San Antonio Spurs or Memphis Grizzlies
Both squads have tough potential second-round matchups. Golden State could face a Clippers squad that eliminated them from the playoffs last season and has the experience and depth to give the No. 1 seed problems in a seven-game series. The Rockets, however, will face a difficult stylistic matchup against either second-round opponent. Memphis plays big and strong and is a nightmare for any opponent, particularly during the playoffs. San Antonio has championship experience, employs the best coach in the game, moves the ball well and can go big or small. Houston's playoff run will probably end in this round, while Golden State has a dysfunctional Clippers squad and revenge on its radar.
Advantage : Golden State
Western Conference Odds
Golden State: Even
Houston could have the easier first-round matchup, but that would not mean much since Golden State would be a huge favorite to advance. New Orleans or Oklahoma City could put up a fight, but neither will have enough talent to beat the Warriors in a seven-game series. Steve Kerr's squad dodged two bullets heading into the postseason: the first being Durant's injury and the second being the Spurs getting hot and moving up in the rankings. The Rockets will be the team in trouble with either of their second-round matchups, and a short postseason is most likely in store.
Read more articles by George Monroy
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